Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Friday, April 1, 2011

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

Praying friendship for you, me and tobie.

April 1st was a Monday in 1991. I remember because 20 years ago today my good friend, Larry Dunning died in a car crash a few miles from our home in upstate New York. Larry was very important to Judy and I. He performed our wedding. He invited me to preach in an actual church service. He gave me my first real live job in the ministry. I guess most importantly he made an impartation into my life that has never gone away. You see, I was a sinner before I was saved. Not just as a hobby, but as a fulltime occupation. Even after I went to bible school, I didn’t have much “polish” when it came to church stuff. I had never even been a church member, much less a Pastor. In spite of my ecclesiastical ignorance, Larry gave me his pulpit. He asked my opinion on stuff about which I had no clue, then nodded as if my replies made sense. He gave me the gift of believing in me.

When I picture Larry, I see him on the platform at that old church in Oklahoma City. He has both hands in the air so high his shirttail is pulling out of his waistband. He has his eyes turned toward heaven. He is just shouting “Glory!” He never worshipped just a little bit. He always gave it everything he had. He was acutely aware that Jesus gave it all for him. Larry was a decent preacher, and a good friend. But he was a great worshipper. In particular, I remember one chorus he liked to use to close the service:

I WILL ARISE AND GO FORTH, IN THE NAME OF THE LORD OF HOSTS
FOR HE HAS CONQUERED EVERY FOE BY HIS NAME, BY HIS NAME
I WILL DECLARE HE IS THE LORD I WILL TRUST AND NOT BE AFRAID
I WILL ARISE AND GO FORTH BY HIS NAME

Scripture Reading: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

Somebody Said: God puts people in your life to assist in bringing His future for you to pass. It is said, “When God wants to birth a future, He births a relationship. When the devil wants to destroy a future, he births a relationship too.” Question, “Who is speaking into your life?” The answer is, whoever you have authorized to speak into your life. Recognize the godly leaders that have been placed in your life and follow their example. Lonnie Hilton

I thank the Lord for sending someone who believed in me and who showed me how not to be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May you be blessed with such a friend.

vls
www.fcftucson.org

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Thursday, March 25, 2011

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

Hey, me and tobie, we need each other.

A few weeks ago I was agonized as I watched my dear wife struggling to lift a 3 gallon jug of water in our kitchen. For years we have had a water dispenser which I kept supplied. I normally went to the water store and filled several 5 gallon jugs and hauled them home. Now, thanks to a back injury, I couldn’t do my job. It was left to Judy to carry the weight. I could only watch as she struggled, and pray she didn’t hurt herself. That was only one incident among many in a very difficult period for me. At church the staff all ran ahead to open doors. An 11-year-old boy met me at the car to carry my guitar. My wife did all the driving since I couldn’t feel my foot. I found it very difficult to allow others to serve me in these ways, but because of their willingness to help, the ministry continued and I recovered at an astonishing pace. It was a learning experience in many ways.

God has designed the Church in such a way that we all need each other in order to accomplish His ends. You can’t do it alone. Every person in the church has a purpose in being planted there. Some don’t seem important until they are not there. You don’t miss your water ‘til the well runs dry. The truth is, every part of the body is important. As a Pastor, I take my calling very seriously. I prepare and pray and organize my life so as to be of maximum effectiveness. But my calling is not any more important than the sound tech, or the usher, or the kid’s club leader, or the building cleaner. I may be more visible, but I am not more important. When any part of the body is out of place or broken down, another must take up the slack. Unfortunately, just like Judy trying to lift the water jug, it is a real strain to do someone else’s job. The job gets done, but usually less well, and the weight of it may cause other problems. Your calling is as important as any other. Please take it seriously.

Scripture Reading: In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; Romans 12:4-6a MSG

Somebody Said: Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. Vince Lombardi

I believe it is God’s design that we should need each other. It prevents pride. It makes every life valuable. It insures that the glory goes to the One who gives the grace. I thank God that I need you.

vls
www.fcftucson.org

Authority

Just doing a little research and found this definition that really blessed me: “Delegation of authority is the action by which a commander assigns part of his or her authority commensurate with the assigned task to a subordinate commander. While ultimate responsibility cannot be relinquished, delegation of authority carries with it the imposition of a measure of responsibility. The extent of the authority delegated must be clearly stated. (Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. US Department of Defense 2005.)”  Our commander has assigned us a part of His authority to carry out a portion of  His mission.  Glory!

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV)

Evil Exists

Watching the news and thinking about the reality of evil.  It is hard to ignore.  Evil exists.  Not just natural disaster, but genuine malevolence without compassion or conscience.  Even the loony social liberals who attempt to attribute so much to problems of nurture and socialization have trouble explaining some of the grossest atrocities.  It is almost unanimous: Evil is.  To me that argues for the antithesis.  If we are able to recognize and name absolute evil, there must be the possibility of absolute good.  Good is.  If it is, then what do we call it? I believe it is not an it, but a He.  As surely as evil is, God is. 

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.  Hebrews 11:6 NLT

 

Can We Wait on the Nuclear Debate?

Just a quick pet peeve: The tube is full of pundits in suits discussing whether we should all stop using nuclear energy.  Heads of state are shutting down power plants.  This is all in reesonse to the tragedy playing out in Japan.  They have experienced a catastrophe of monstrous proportions, and some of their nuclear reactors are in trouble.  Now many of the same people who a week ago were lobbying for more nuclear plants are now screaming to take existing ones off line.  Here’s my problem:  Isn’t this the time to quit gazing at our own navel and get busy trying to save the folks who are in immediate danger?  Is the middle of a crisis the best time to make long-term decisions regarding energy supply?  Fear drives us to stupidity and selfishness.  How about we do the right thing by the Japanese, then when the smoke clears we can assess lessons learned with all the facts in hand.

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Friday, March 11, 2011

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

Be Filled with the Spirit, me and tobie!

A little more than thirty years ago, I was invited to attend a new church in my hometown. I was a fairly new Christian with a Baptist/Presbyterian background, so the whole thing seemed a little odd to me. First, they met in rented space in a mall. Second, when we walked in there were chairs instead of pews. On the platform there was a keyboard and drums. Weird! Then they started singing. Oh, my! They lifted their hands, they clapped, some even danced a little. It was a shock to the system. Then came the kicker: they started praying in some odd foreign language! I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Later, as I tried to process this bizarre experience, I was stricken with the gnawing sense that, strange as they were, they had something real. A few days later, sitting in someone’s living room, I prayed for and received an experience Jesus called being “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5) My life has never been the same.

There is a good deal of controversy and confusion concerning the Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the practice of speaking in tongues, but it is well worth the trouble to sift through it all and find the reality. It is real, and I can’t imagine living the Christian life without it. Along with this experience came a new boldness to share my faith. (Acts 1:8) Then there was the experience of worship. I understood why those folks were dancing! (1 Cor 14:15) Maybe most striking was the new power in my prayer life. I could pray in tongues with the confidence that God heard and understood, and reacted in accordance with aspects of His will that I could not conceive in my limited mind. (Romans 8:26) And as a bonus, when I prayed in tongues, it built me up! (1 Cor 14:4) Now I know for many of you old-timers, this is all common knowledge. But here’s a heads-up for you: the Baptism of the Spirit is disappearing in many of our churches. They don’t even talk about it, much less practice it. It just seems a shame to let such a powerful, glorious, and helpful blessing fade away. You need the Holy Spirit, and so do they.

Scripture Reading: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NLT)

Somebody Said: "If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference." A.W. Tozer

We ramble on about having a New Testament kind of church, but without the real live power of the Spirit, there can be no such thing. I am an old-timer now, but I cannot in good conscience toddle on to glory without at least telling folks about the wondrous power of the Spirit. They need it, whether they know it or not.

vls
www.fcftucson.org

For information regarding our online course on the Holy Ghost, visit http://www.fcftucson.org/fmti.php.

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

Give me some Word, me and tobie.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a couple who were having marital difficulties. The husband was an ordained minister, and he made sure I was aware of his exalted status. He always wore a tie and carried a big Bible. As I am prone to do, I kept leading him back to his Bible for instruction on how to treat his wife, whom he tended to dominate. It got a little tense on several occasions as he resisted the counsel I offered by explaining her various shortcomings in meeting his needs. At the end of one particularly heated session, he slammed his Bible on the desk, leaned forward in his chair, and spat out the words, “I don’t care what the Bible says!” I laughed out loud. At least he was finally honest enough to admit it. That is the problem with most folks we counsel; they just don’t ever say it. They hear the prescription of the Scripture, then go on about their business as if nothing happened.

The awful truth of the matter is that I can never help anyone in a permanent way unless I can get them over on to the Word of God for themselves. Whether in the counseling room or in the sanctuary, it is the Word that helps people. It is the source of faith for a people that must walk by faith. It is sustenance for the spirit man who cannot live by bread alone. It is the sword in the mouth of the one who wrestles not against flesh and blood. Without it we are doomed to fear, doubt, weakness and defeat. There is no option. There are lots of things in our Christian life that are nice, but optional – comfortable seats, good music, video presentations, appealing people, bounteous buffets, and paved parking lots – but none of those is of one moment’s help in the time of trouble. You have to have the Word. If I ever forget that, I am a sorry excuse for a minister.

Scripture Reading: And he made low your pride and let you be without food and gave you manna for your food, a thing new to you, which your fathers never saw; so that he might make it clear to you that bread is not man’s only need, but his life is in every word which comes out of the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3 BBE)

Somebody Said: Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face. Ronald Reagan

You can’t live the Christian life in your own power. It requires spiritual strength. The primary source of spiritual strength is the Word of God as written in the Bible. You cannot live a successful Christian life without it. It is your spirit food. God’s Word is the source of faith. You can’t have faith without it. You will never grow as a Christian without opening your Bible. It is impossible. Get on the Word!

vls
www.fcftucson.org

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

We’re walking in newness of life, me and tobie!

One morning not too long ago, I left home headed for the gym. When I turned out onto the main road, I suddenly thought, “Did you close the garage door?” I couldn’t remember! I had to turn around and drive back home, only to discover that the door was, indeed, shut. We do things all the time that have become such habits we can’t remember the specific act. Unfortunately, this same thing happens in church. We allow some of our most cherished acts of worship to become so habitual that we do them without an appreciation for their meaning. Paul said, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” I wonder sometimes how often we sin our way through our services. Do you remember what songs you sang last Sunday? What was the message about? Who sat near you? How were their lives going? Did you give in the offering? How much? Did the congregation pray about anything? What was it and what are you believing about it? What was the altar call? Who went forward? And on it goes.

This last Sunday, we had water baptisms. I was impressed by the joy and sincerity of all those who were immersed. You could see it in their faces: Something happened. Baptism by immersion is not a religious ritual marking some sort of bizarre initiation to the Holy Roller club. It is a step of faith in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that faith without works is useless, and I am convinced that water baptism is the first work that springs from faith in Christ. Jesus said it was a pivotal and primary act in making disciples. (Matt 28:18-20) When we mix works with our faith we can expect Bible results. Paul said when we are baptized; we are dead with Christ and therefore freed from sin. He said we are then raised to walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-7) He told the Colossians that they were raised together with Christ and were circumcised in their hearts. (Col 2:11-12) To the Galatians he proclaimed that in baptism we put on Christ and are forever marked as sons of God. (Gal 3:26-27) To the early church, this was no empty ritual, and it ought not be to us, either. Something memorable is supposed to happen.

Scripture Reading: And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21 NLT)

Somebody Said: Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have spent a good deal of energy over the years fighting the tendency to ritualize baptism by calling it only a symbol, moving it out of the church service, and by baptizing folks without giving them the Word on the subject. If they don’t have the Word, they can’t have faith. Every time I see that glory on the face of the newly baptized, I know it is worth the effort.

vls
www.fcftucson.org

p.s.Iif you need a good book on the subject, try Water baptism: …believeth-and-is-baptized. We give one to every baptismal candidate.

Public Employee Unions – a Very Bad Idea

Speaking as a former public (government) employee, I have always had an aversion to collective bargaining in that arena. The whole concept of unionization was designed to protect employees in the private sector from the abuses that could and did result from the erratic behavior of the market, and the manipulative behavior of corporate leaders. The idea was that the mass of employees could be more effective in obtaining a fair share of profits, as well as assuming their fair share of risk. Neither of those outcomes are applicable to public employees. They work for us. When public employees strike, they are demanding a larger share of the profits from the labors of private sector workers. That is the only source for their income. Government can print money, but it cannot produce wealth. In addition, public employees are bargaining with politicians as the representatives of the “public.” These same politicians are subject to election which may be financed, endorsed, and operationally supported by public employee unions. That is an open door to corruption – politicians beholden to public unions are disbursing funds earned by private sector workers, funds which the politician has not worked for are used to make promises he is not responsible to keep. It is just a formula for catastrophe. Oh, wait a minute! It has already caused a catastrophe. Who knew?
vls

Sad News

I am very sad to report that my best friend and faithful companion, Tobie, went to be with the Lord on Saturday morning last. He had been quite ill for a while, and just couldn’t recover this time. Judy and I are grateful to the Lord for letting us have 8 years with the best dog ever created. He was the perfect fit for us as we navigated through starting a church when we were too old to do so, burying my mom, and nursing Judy’s mom through her bout with cancer. Tobie remained calm and positive through it all. He never wavered. For the religionists out there who would claim that dogs don’t go to heaven, all I can say is you either don’t know the Lord or you didn’t know Tobie. Either way, I feel sorry for you. I will attempt to share some of the things he taught me in the days ahead.
vlsTobie and Mama

Tobie and Judy

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

Hey, me and tobie, you must be born again!

I was watching a famous TV commentator the other day as he opined on what ails our nation. He had some good ideas about personal responsibility, but he ended with this statement: “We each have the ability to change ourselves.” That statement bothered me. First, there was a tinge of pride in it, the implication that we could all benefit by being like him, who had done such a grand job of self-improvement. Second, though I can see the benefit of reading and working to improve my knowledge or my habits, my own experience has been that any fundamental change has to come from somewhere else. How many times did I swear I would never drink again? How many “last cigarettes” did I smoke? And then there was my temper: How many resolutions to hold my tongue? And every single time, I wanted to be sincere… I needed to be sincere. The sad truth is that nothing worked until I completely gave up. I was simply not strong enough or good enough to stay the course. Then I came to Christ and something fundamental changed on the inside of me. I was born again.

Therein lies the problem with self-improvement: It just puts the proverbial lipstick on a pig. The pig is still a pig. No matter how many bad habits I try to reform, I am still the wrong kind of person. I cannot change my fundamental nature. Only God can do that. That is the meaning of being born again – I am a new kind of creature with a new nature. The new creature in Christ is not perfect in performance from the first day, but he now has a genuine desire to be right and do right. The surprise for me was that even after I was born again, I still couldn’t change myself! I had to learn to depend on the One who now dwelt within me. As with any newborn, I had to grow up, grow stronger, and grow wiser from the inside out. Now, more than 30 years later, I am still discovering who I am because of the new birth. As I see myself more clearly, I can then cooperate with the Spirit of God in changing my outsides to reflect my new insides. The process is ongoing. I seek Him, I feed on His Word, and He changes me.

Scripture Reading: Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT)

Somebody Said: Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. Billy Sunday

Jesus didn’t just die to forgive your bad deeds. He was raised again to provide you with a new identity. You were born again, born of the Spirit. Now you will spend the rest of your life learning who this new person is, living a life that reflects the new nature, not struggling to overcome the old. You can’t change yourself; you have to find yourself, and then put on yourself and act like yourself.

vls
http://www.fcftucson.org

Out of the Abundance of the Heart

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

Thank God for Jesus, me and tobie!

Years ago there was a lady in our church whose husband was unsaved. We all agreed that if he would only become a Christian he would be a real asset. He was intelligent and well thought of in the community. What an impact he could have! Then he started coming to church. He nodded his head to being born again. He faithfully sat in the second row. He never smiled, He never served. If he impacted anyone other than to complain, I was unaware of it. In short, we were wrong about his value as a Christian because we based our predictions on his natural, human characteristics. The truth is, none of us has anything that God “needs” or that constitutes us as being more or less valuable to the Lord or His church. We don’t do God any favors by serving Him, no matter how much we would like to think so. We need Him, He doesn’t need us.

The truth is, no one is grateful for being found until he is painfully aware of being lost. One of the real shocks to me when I entered the ministry was the lack of passion and commitment on the part of so many church folks. They liked to sing. They enjoyed inspirational preaching. Most would even give money if they were moved emotionally. But it was just too much to ask to commit to regular service. It took us several years to finally realize that the one who is unaware of the hopelessness of his condition is not particularly grateful for being freed from it. The reality is that we were all equally and hopelessly lost. No matter our talent, our career, or our social position, we were each one individually guilty of the murder of the Son of God. We were each equally in need of His gracious “Father forgive them.” Those who grasp that serve passionately out of a grateful heart. Those who don’t are either lukewarm or they serve for counterfeit motives.

Scripture Reading: Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal." (Luke 7:47 MSG)

Somebody Said: Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie

Passion, faithfulness, and grace toward others all spring from gratitude to God for His gift in Christ. Jesus came to rescue you, and you needed it!

vls
http://www.fcftucson.org